A man who police say frightened Harborplace merchants and is charged with robbing two of them at gunpoint has been released on bail, forcing detectives to cancel a lineup that they hoped would link a string of armed holdups to one man.
His release has sparked anger among police officers who privately blame the District Court judge who set bail for Anthony Grace, 34, at $30,000, despite a criminal record that includes convictions on murder and drug charges.
The judge, who learned of Mr. Grace's criminal past from The Sun, decried a justice system that he said failed to point out how dangerous the accused might be.
Mr. Grace, who posted bail and was released on Thursday, was sentenced in 1979 to 20 years in prison on the murder conviction. State records show he was paroled in 1987 until Feb. 6, 1999. In 1991, Mr. Grace served seven months in jail on a drug charge.
Detectives complained that the suspect "had no signs of stopping" his alleged robbery spree and was caught only after he allegedly held up a store at the Owings Mills mall -- which occurred after a composite sketch of the Harborplace suspect was shown in newspapers and on television.
"He should not even be considered for bail," said Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the police union. "Some of these judges need a little reality check. If this guy is not a danger to the public, I don't know who is."
Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said the lineup had been scheduled for Thursday and involved several merchants from Harborplace. Police were hoping the merchants could identify the suspect so he could be charged in three other cases.
Police are working to get Mr. Grace back in custody. On Thursday, they searched his home to gather "evidence to link him to the various robberies," Agent Weinhold said.
Police said they seized drugs and a .22-caliber rifle. They issued an arrest warrant charging Mr. Grace with six counts of drug possession and being a felon in possession of a firearm. They were searching for him last night.
Stores closed early
The Harborplace holdups, which occurred in August and September, frightened many of the 200 merchants at the Light and Pratt street pavilions. Some said they closed early as police searched for the elusive robber.
Detectives got a break when Baltimore County police arrested Mr. Grace on Sept. 19 and charged him with armed robbery at the Owings Mills mall. He posted bail and was released, but was arrested two days later by city police in connection with the Harborplace incidents.
A court commissioner ordered Mr. Grace held without bail, but District Judge John M. Glynn set bail at $30,000 and scheduled a trial date for Oct. 19. Yesterday, the judge said he did not recall if the suspect's criminal record and parole status came up during the bail hearing.
Judge Glynn said that often the court does not have "an accurate and complete record" of a defendant's history. "You never feel you have as much information as you should have," he said.
But the judge noted that prosecutors and police did not show up for the bail hearing and said he might have ruled differently had he been given more information.
"It is disheartening to have police complain about a bail after the fact when the state makes no appearance," he said, adding that "it is disturbing to hear that a newspaper has more access to information on a criminal defendant than the judge that sets his bail."
Details of Mr. Grace's murder conviction were not available yesterday.
Officially, the Police Department would not take a position on Mr. Grace's release. "It is in the hands of the criminal justice system to decide whether an individual is to remain incarcerated," Agent Weinhold said.
Joan Davidson, a spokeswoman for the Rouse Co., which runs Harborplace, said merchants are concerned. "The police did an outstanding job to bring this man to justice, and I hope that all their efforts are rewarded by having him caught as soon as possible," she said.